Lung cancer screening conducted with low-dose computed tomography is effective in detecting lung cancer, according to News Medical.

“For some patients, the perception is that lung cancer is terminal, but that’s not always the case,” said Christina Bellinger, MD, a pulmonologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “Lung cancer screening has proven effective in detecting lung cancer when it’s still in its treatable stage.”

The screening is done with low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans that can detect tumors as small as 3/64 of an inch. The process is recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, American Cancer Society and numerous other organizations for people age 55 and over with no symptoms of lung cancer who have smoked the equivalent of one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years and who still smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.

A national study involving 53,000 patients and 11 institutions (including Wake Forest Baptist) compared CT screens with chest X-rays and found that the scanning reduced lung cancer mortality by 20% in this high-risk population. The results were so conclusive, in fact, that the study was concluded early.

In light of those findings, Medicare and Medicaid earlier this year began paying for the screening for patients who meet their eligibility criteria, and many private insurance companies are also doing so.

“CT scans are the only way to detect lung cancer early,” Bellinger said. “All longtime smokers should discuss screening with their physicians.”

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